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2009 - An Orange and Blue Dawn

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A lot of things can happen to a team when a new coach comes to town. On a macro scale, a team can rise from the ashes or dash into oblivion. On a smaller scale, changes can be made to player personnel or schemes.

A lot of work at MHR has gone into predicting some of these changes. Will the defense see a 4-3 or 3-4 look? Will salaries (like Champ Bailey's) be looked at? Will Cutler get along with the new staff? I don't know the answers to these questions. But I do know that the Broncos are in the midst of an exciting time. We have multiple draft picks on the way for the upcoming draft, we have good cap room, and we have exciting young players already in place.

For what it's worth, I want to share my thoughts on several of the changes that are coming. I don't so much want to make any predictions, as much as I want to apply my own contexts to what may change.

4-3 or 3-4?

Will we see a 4-3 or a 3-4 in 2009? We're getting ahead of ourselves guessing at that. While a coach may lean towards a certain formation or system, the dirty little of secret of defensive coaching is that any coach can a 4-3 or 3-4 indifferently. There really is no "3-4 coach" or "4-3 coach".

Nolan (new DC) may lean towards the 3-4, or might even lean towards a scheme that is 3-4-centric. But he is just as capable of running a 4-3, and will look at the players he has, and what transformations he can make this reloading season.

Here are my thoughts. We have more talent at LB than at DL, and this favors a shift to the 3-4. However, we don't have a dominant NT to run the common 2 gap approaches, or even the less common 1 gap variations. In the reloading season, it is easier to find LBs than to find solid DLmen. This may be an issue for Denver in making a choice.

Also, while it is fun to speculate on this potential change, it should be put into context. The 3-4 is not a magic formation by any stretch. Like the 4-3, the 3-4 has advantages and disadvatages.

Advantages include -

  • It is easier to obtain quality LBs than qualtiy DLs, and thus easier to build a 3-4.
  • More "pure athletes" are on the field, since many would consider a LB to be more skilled than a DL.
  • Increased reaction time for LBs. The LBs start further back than they would in a 4-3, so they have nearly .5 to a full second to read a play as it develops.
  • Puts more men in the short zones to disrupt passes.
  • Allows for a much larger play book, as LBs have more play uses than DLs. This also means more flexibility for the defense.
  • Stops runs to the outside (wider spaced OLBs).

Disadvantages include -

  • It is not as effective against the inside running game as the 4-3, and most of the League is "run first" and runs the middle.
  • More often than not, a 3-4 can be more expensive to field (comparing the cost of LBs to DLs).

On first glance it would appear that there are more advantages, but this is offset by the glaring disadvantage against the run relative to the 4-3.

So is the 3-4 a "coach driven" scheme, or is it based on personnel?

The truth is, any defensive coordinator can run a 4-3 or 3-4 indifferently. While coaches have preferences, they more often defer to what they have available. If the team could go either way, the coordinator is probably going with what he is more comfortable with.

What's better, the 3-4 or 4-3?

Don't get in the mind set of "better" when thinking about formations and systems. They are different, and do different things. While some formations and some systems are great match-ups against other formations or systems, the rule of thumb is that the team that executes their own program better than the other team executes theirs is going to prevail.

For the full MHR article on 3-4 defenses, read here.

My thoughts on Coach Collier's thoughts

I don't have the speed on my antiquated pc to catch the Collier interview that Super7 did a great job with on the front page. But here are my takes on the substance of the interview that Super7 outlined for us.

It's an easy transition and Denver's players shouldn't have too hard of a time with it. The Broncos will need a Nose Tackle, but their Linebackers are set up well to employ a 3-4.

I agree. The change between a 4-3 and a 3-4 isn't too much of an impact on th players. Things like terminology and scheme have a much more profound impact. As stated earlier, the DL is more of a concern if we are switching to a 3-4.

A 3-4 defense isn't a 3-4 defense on any down and distance. On 1st down, 2nd and short, and 3rd and short, Denver will play 3-4. 2nd and long will be a nickel (5 DB's) and 3rd and long will be a dime (6 DB's).

I agree. Of course, the same can be said for the 4-3 (it isn't run every down). It is a little over simplistic to assign the nickle to 2nd and long, and the dime to 3rd and long though. Many variables go into which formation takes the field, not just down and distance (for example, which personnel on the other team are lining up, and what kind of match-ups can be exploited).

The Defensive Linemen in a 3-4 are "ego surpressed" meaning that they don't get alot of praise in the system and you have to plan accordingly as a coordinator. Maybe bringing in a big name won't work.

Correct. Denver learned this lesson in the run contain system we ran in '07, where big name players on the DL didn't perform well. Like many systems played in a 3-4, the run contain garners no glory for a DLman, and a big name may not be the way to go.

Elvis Dumervil has some huge potential in a 3-4. Collier moved both Karl Mecklenburg and Simon Fletcher to Linebacker after they both played Defensive End in college and were undersized. Collier thinks Dumervil can be a dangerous pass rusher from the outside especially when you consider that he'd either be blocked by a Running Back or nobody...

Movement to a 3-4 can allow some flexbility in how players are used. Moving Doom to OLB or moving Thomas to DE may be viable.

Collier's not sure if Denver has anyone who can play Nose Tackle. They're tough to find. When Marcus Thomas' name was brought up by The Fan, Collier wasn't sure if he would fit the bill. You can't simply put weight on Thomas and expect that he maintain his signature quickness. This makes me assume that Denver adds a Nose Tackle through the draft and potentially Free Agency.

A 3-4 NT is the hardest position to fill in football. QBs are more sought after, but true NTs are rarer. Consider also that Denver would need a true NT for back-up as well.

Position Needs

Well, if we switch to a 3-4, we'll certainly need a couple of those rare NTs (including the back-up). Another ILB wouldn't be a bad bet either.

With or without a change to 3-4, we need to take into account Bailey's contract. I think Bailey and Bly stay this year, but we aren't getting any younger at CB, and a good CB in the draft may be a possibility.

I am of the opinion that our safeties may be ok "as is". This may surprise many folks, but I believe that any upgrade to our front seven will improve the play of our CBs and SAFs. A great SAF may be hard to pass up in the draft though, and (depending on the system), a SAF may be needed even more. Who knows yet?

A switch to 3-4 might lessen the need for DEs (some 4-3 DTs can play DE in a 3-4). If we stay with the 4-3, we may or may not need DEs. Improvements at DT would help Doom and Moss with their game, and buy time to replace aging (but still effective) players like Ekuban and company.

On offense, I like the idea of bringing in an interior lineman. The offensive line looks perfect at OT, but Wiegmann's age may require us to get another OC to give us some insurance for K-Lich.

I also like the idea of another TE. Graham is still great, but getting older. Scheff is great, but seems to get injured quite a bit.

RB doesn't concern me too much. While we had many injuries, not all can be attributed to poor conditioning. Like many MHR members, I like the idea of bringing back Hillis at a minimum.

Perhaps a kicker for competion, and that rounds up my thoughts on needed acquisitions.

MHR member SlowWhiteGuy has been doing a series of posts on who we might keep and let go (so far he has addressed the DL and the LBs). It's a solid take, and I recommend you check out his thoughts too.

MHR University Requests

Mile High Report University will be starting up right after the Superbowl. Last year we had great participation, and some great topics. If you have any topics you want to see addressed at MHR-U this reloading season, put your thoughts in the comments section. MHR staff member Styg50 will be onthe MHR-U faculty this year, bringing us a terrific multi-part series on desired traits by position to help us with post-combine analysis, and I hope to use MHR-U to build basic and intermediate knowledge of formations, schemes, systems, and player assignements. Leave your questions or requests in the comments section.


I've had a bit of work related absence from MHR the past several days, and was blown away by all of the news, new members, and terrific posts (I'm still catching up). I'm glad to be getting back in the swing of things, and look forward to your thoughts on any of the above.

Best as always,